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Queen Guitar Rhapsodies

Adding an Irish twist to my Magical Mystery Guitar Tour

Carlos with pub sign in Carrick-on-Shannon, Ireland, 6th July 2012

Stepdancing, traditional music, lots of pubs.... and more, at Carrick-on-Shannon's Music Fest

Last week I was playing in the rainy Lake District, and this week in the rainy west coast of Ireland. Rain is good – it creates green vegetation of ever-varying hues. Rain is bad – it lands on my bald head and dribbles down my face. Taking no notice of my bedraggled self I ventured forth on Thursday to explore the small and charming town of Carrick-on-Shannon where I was scheduled to play the following day, 6th July, as part of the most appropriately named Water Music Festival. Strolling through its entire length and breadth does not take long, but stopping at every pub on the way is a different story since there is one every few yards. And that really is something noteworthy of a town with a population of a mere three thousand five hundred or so.

Apart from the pleasures of drinking (in moderation) Carrick offers two most agreeable pastimes. Firstly, the sociable gathering of people who have known each other since childhood as happens inevitably in small communities but regrettably not so frequently in the cities, and secondly, live music in the shape of local musicians. And thus I stumbled upon a delightful quartet of players in the back space of Cryans Bar on Bridge Street. Made up of a wooden flute, two violins and a concertina, they played their way earnestly through reels and jigs, almost always in unison and octaves, with just occasionally a harmony note to warm the proceedings.

Earnest too were the players in Market Yard, this time consisting of a larger group of violins, concertinas and a guitar. Quite suddenly two girls no older than ten years of age came to the wooden platform in front of the musicians and performed an Irish stepdance. This dance-form which gained international recognition through the Riverdance theatre shows is characterised by arms to the sides, upper bodies inflexible from the waist up, but legs and feet a flurry of activity. A thought occurred to me: Spain and Ireland share a common heritage as two of the most Catholic countries in Europe, but have developed completely different dances. Contrast the stepdance with arms glued to the hips as if in a straitjacket with flamenco from the deep south of Spain which relies on the fingers, hands and arms to expressively carve out imaginary shapes above the waist-line.

The next day Friday I went for a long walk after breakfast, practised for an hour or so before lunch, went for another walk afterwards, and then off at 5pm to St George’s Church for my concert at 6pm. I was greeted by James Phillips, an informal and dynamic member of the festival's organising committee, who had accompanied me around town the previous day.

For the concert I chose to present my Magical Mystery Guitar Tour programme which the capacity audience received with enthusiastic applause. As well as my arrangements of music by Queen and the Beatles I also played such classics as Asturias and Memories of the Alhambra. Many audiences have not heard these pieces live (or at all), and this music never fails to cast its spell and gain more converts to the beautiful sound of the guitar. At James’ suggestion I played Brian Boru’s March as an encore and to my delight some of the audience started humming to it. As a coda I ended with a fragment of Turlough O'Carolan’s Planxty Irwin. O'Carolan was a blind Irish harpist who composed some lovely music now considered part of the folk music heritage of Ireland. He settled in County Leitrim where he died in 1738, and is buried in the beautiful village of Keadue, County Roscommon, only a few miles from Carrick.

After the concert I walked across with James, the excellent guitarist and composer Darragh O’Neill who was once my student, and a couple of female acquaintances to the very fine Victoria Hall restaurant owned by Keith Nolan. As well as a restaurateur he is one of Ireland’s leading photographers. As we approached I was introduced to the man himself, an array of cameras and zooms strung across his shoulders. Inside the restaurant wonderful portrait photos of glamorous Anabella Jackson, Keith's wife, adorn the walls. Also there, are two photos separated by twenty years of Ruairi O'Bradaigh, former chief of staff of the Irish Republican Army and President of Sinn Féin. In the one he smiles benignly in the company of friends. In the other he looks like a distinguished grand-uncle.

And so concluded my all-too-brief visit to this characterful part of Ireland. The lilt of the beautifully spoken English will linger long in my mind, as will the profusion of local talent manifested in musicians and dancers. So, too, will the warmth and hospitality of all the people of Carrick-on-Shannon.

Read more:

Carrick-on-Shannon Water Music Festival:

Cryans, Traditional Irish Music Bar:

St George’s Church, where I gave the concert:

Darragh O’Neill, guitarist and composer:

Victoria Hall Restaurant:

Keith Nolan, photographer and restaurateur

London, 8 July, 2012

Printed from: http://www.carlosbonell.com/blog/?p=1359 .
© 2019.

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